Tarot card © Yury Shakov (1937-1989), designer of the most beautiful Tarot set
Changing of the guards is considered to be a cryptic song. John Herdman writes in Voice without restraint: “The song tells in marvellously evocative language a fractured and elusive tale which yield little to a search for connecting meaning.” However the Tarot imagery makes it not all too difficult to decipher the song’s meaning. It is all about change, radical change (as illustrated with the Tarot cards death and the falling tower as well as with the lines about the resurrection of Jesus). Change in his career (“sixteen years”, “I don’t need your organisation”), relation (“the empty rooms where her memory is protected”, so her memory is all that is left), but foremost Dylan’s conversion to Christianity (“peace will come with tranquility and splendor”). Changing of the Guards is the counterpart of Shelter from the storm.
When the album came out I immediately liked it (and still do) and I think Changing of the Guards arguably is one of Dylan’s best songs. It is strange that Dylan only performed the song during the 1978 world tour. A possible explanation could be that it is too personal for him.